New app helps Waterloo Region residents do more good

By Kelly Pedro on Jan 29, 2020 4 min read

How much can $200 buy?

It depends, of course, on what you’re buying.

It can buy an Apple TV or the latest gadget. A new pair of cycling shoes or a wine tasting tour for two. But, it can also buy a lot more than that.

Just $200 can provide more than 600 community meal programs in Waterloo Region with six days of milk supplies.

It can provide 10 refugees with English as a Second Language kits to help them learn critical English-speaking skills in their first weeks in Waterloo Region.

Or partially furnish an apartment for someone who has faced homelessness.

It can help pay for a program that teaches at-risk preschoolers to read so they hit the ground running when school starts in September.

Or pay for 20 saplings that are planted to help lessen the impact of climate change.

Or cover the cost of one therapy support group for survivors of sexual assault.

There’s no shortage of goodness that $200 can buy.

But with the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation (KWCF) that same $200 can stretch even further as part of a donation that gets invested, called an endowment fund.

That’s why Zeitspace offered to help KWCF build a tool — called the Impact Amplifier — to let would-be philanthropists explore just how far their dollars could stretch if they set up a $5,000 endowment fund with KWCF that grants out around $200 every year.

Endowment funds hand out grants forever, whether the person who made the original donation contributes more or not — rather than, say, donations earmarked for a set amount of time. In other words, when you set up an endowment fund your $5,000 donation is never spent. Instead, that donation is invested and what that investment earns — around four percent every year — is what’s handed out to charities and non-profit organizations.

That may sound small, but it’s the constant flow of money that makes endowment funds so valuable to charities. It’s money they can count on whether someone contributes regularly or not. In 2019, KWCF granted about $3.4 million to 231 local charities and non-profit organizations.

The Impact Amplifier tool is meant to show people how they can make a difference with a small amount of money by setting up a fund and seeing the impact they can make in the community linked to causes that matter to them, says Lynne Short, vice president of KWCF.

“We wanted to create something that worked for people to use on their own, when they were deciding to participate in a company program, or as a tool they could use to involve their family in giving back,” says Short. “The Impact Amplifier allows families to learn about giving back. If you start to do it every year it becomes an ingrained habit.”

That was Short’s childhood experience. Raised in a family that always supported charities, she continued to do so as an adult — as a volunteer and as a donor.

KWCF wanted to make it easier for people in the community to do more good, so they dropped the minimum amount needed to start an endowment fund, from $25,000 to $5,000.

The Impact Amplifier lets people explore six causes and examples of how their donation can make a lasting difference.

“People want to know what impact their philanthropy is making in the community,” says Short. “Part of the reason we picked a tech solution is because of the community we’re in. Many people want to do self-discovery and analysis on their own and then come to us.”

A tool to do more good

It’s often said that many hands make light work.

That was the idea behind dropping the amount needed to start an endowment fund from $25,000 to $5,000 — to give more people a chance to make a lasting difference in Waterloo Region.

To truly show the difference $5,000 could make, KWCF knew it needed a tool. That was obvious after the foundation participated in a product design sprint with Capacity Canada as part of a program to help non-profit organizations use design thinking practices to become more nimble. During research for the design sprint, Short says people often asked KWCF whether there was a tool that they could use to see their impact.

A few key ideas came out of the design sprint, says Short, one of which was a prototype for the Impact Amplifier.

“We needed to partner with a tech organization in the community to turn that idea into reality,” says Short.

She met with Zeitspace partners Mark Connolly and Jeff Fedor, showed them the prototype, and talked about KWCF’s values.

“Our values aligned with Zeitspace, and Mark and Jeff offered to develop the Impact Amplifier,” says Short. “And we are extremely fortunate they did!”

Zeitspace does pro bono work with some non-profit organizations as a way of giving back to the community while helping UX designers and software developers at Zeitspace work on their craft between projects.

Designing the Impact Amplifier

Zeitspace user experience designer Jesse Hoek led the project. He did initial research about who would potentially use the tool and in which scenarios. Then, he built user personas based on research he did into current donors and conversations he had with Short.

Hoek put together an initial product design, reviewed it with Short, and then built a clickable prototype before testing the tool with potential users.

“You want to build fast, get some feedback, then build some more,” says Hoek.

“As difficult as it can be to watch people struggle to use something you’ve designed, it’s important to still meet with people and get that feedback. You can sit in your office and build a product, but if you can get out and talk to people and see how they use your product that’s really powerful.”

Short says the early reaction to the tool has been positive.

The KWCF team and the community organizations featured on the tool were very excited when they tested the final product, says Short.

“Those who’ve had the chance to try it out say that it’s easy to navigate and helps illustrate the difference you can make in the community through donations and additional contributions,” she says.

Want to read about other projects Zeitspace has been involved with? Read “Building clickable prototypes tech firm’s super power.”

Kelly Pedro

Written by Kelly Pedro

Kelly Pedro is a journalist at Zeitspace.